Note: Originally uploaded on Red Bull. Post has been slightly altered from original upload.
Takahashi “Bonchan” Masato started from humble origins, but has become a pillar of the scene thanks to his personality (and his love of Nash).
Becoming well known in a gaming community often takes several unique traits to accomplish. It’s not as simple as just being good at the game you play, though that certainly helps. Standing out from the crowd, having an engaging personality, playing in a unique way from everyone else and supporting your community are all ways to get noticed. The more of these traits one embodies the better the chance of being known as a big name in their scene.
A great example of someone who portrays all of those qualities is Red Bull’s Takahashi “Bonchan” Masato. Having first burst onto the stage from the most unlikely of origins — meeting and befriending an FGC legend in a Mahjong parlor — Bonchan has persisted and has become one of Japan’s most renowned professional gamers.
In the early Street Fighter IV days he played Sagat, a fighter that enjoyed a stable place in the overall character tier list. After moving on to Street Fighter V Bonchan ultimately decided to main Nash, who at the time was considered one of the strongest characters in the game. Since those days much has changed, and Bonchan is one of very few professional gamers who still use Nash.
The Last Nash
Street Fighter V’s Season 2 update brought about a shift in power, leading new top tiers to rise while older ones fell. Nash is a great example of a fallen top tier, as he was very popular before the update: he made regular showings in nearly every major Top 8, and RZR|Infiltration won Evo 2016 with Nash. Today is a completely different landscape with many layers feeling as if he was over-nerfed in the patch.
“I totally understand why a lot of other players dropped Nash”, Bonchan told me. “I don’t particularly have any reaction to that, but I think it’s only natural.” Through this widespread drop of the character, Bonchan has gained a reputation as ‘The Last Nash’. This reputation was punctuated with his recent fourth place showing at NCR, though he isn’t quite comfortable with the title himself.
“I kind of feel strange,” Bonchan commented about the title, “because there definitely are still Nash players left. I’m definitely not the only or last Nash left.” While it may be true that others are still playing Nash, it’s also true that so far Bonchan is the only Nash player to break Top 16 at a Capcom Pro Tour event this year.
Character loyalists who persevere through rough patches are nothing new, but it is surprising to see in today’s age. Many professional gamers won’t use characters they acknowledge as weak when there are high stakes prize pools on the line. Going in the face of all of this, Bonchan made Nash seem strong during his NCR showing, though he doesn’t attribute that success to the character himself.
“I think the strength of Nash right now is the fact people think he is unviable, so when they train it isn’t their top priority to train against Nash. They might understand the changes Nash went through in this version, but they are not trained to play against it, so in tournaments it shows that they do not fully grasp the character.”
In addition to the character choice itself, there’s also an underlying message that picking a character sends to both other competitors and spectators alike. Being known as one of 15 amazing R.Mika’s is great, but gaining a reputation for being a character specialist with a weaker character makes establishing yourself that much easier.
When asked about the importance of having a signature way of play over strictly winning, Bonchan had this to say: “It is only my personal opinion, and I’m not going to say that it is wrong to focus only on winning, but I think the players that only focus on the results cannot fascinate the audience. I think the reason why people root for a certain player is because that player has a style that stands out, or has a strong personality, etc. So while I’d also like to win, I think developing my own style is equally important.“
The Road Trip
While Bonchan has gained an impressive in-game reputation, he’s also respected for his efforts organizing his community in Japan. Street Fighter V has no arcade release at the moment, which is harmful because arcades are the main way many Japanese players enjoy games and connect with each other. Seeing this community void and realizing there was a need for offline meetups, Bonchan organized his Road Trip events which produced places to play all across Japan.
His Road Trip has been covered here on Red Bull in the past, giving us a good look at what started him on his journey. Disheartened by the lack of places to play Street Fighter V, he set out to build up his community and provide venues and experiences for players to enjoy.
There are many rewarding experiences that come with organizing places for players to come together. When asked what his favorite experience organizing was, this is what Bonchan had to say: “I think in general to see the players having fun playing against each other, even if they just got to know each other, is really rewarding. Also I was surprised to hear that some people drove six hours to the venue just to participate in my event.”
While this feeling is certainly worthwhile, it isn’t without strain. Bonchan is somehow managing the Herculean task of staying a competitive player and organizing these events at the same time. Keeping up with any game competitively is no easy task, let alone one that’s still evolving like Street Fighter V. “It is difficult, but the Road Trip project is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so I enjoy it.” To manage this while traveling across Japan and rallying fellow players to pick up the game is nothing short of astounding.
While these efforts are quite amazing, it seems his events don’t get very much crossover with the existing arcade community that Japan is known for. “People who have come to my Road Trip events are a different crowd from the arcade players,” Bonchan explained. “I honestly do not know what the arcade players think of it.” This isn’t to say he’s without support, of course. “I have a lot of supporters that help me set these events up including the people at Red Bull Japan, TOPANGA and my fellow pro gamers that come to the stops as guests.”
His main goal for holding these events was to inspire the younger generation to build up their own local scenes. For any community — whether it’s in Japan, America or Europe — local scenes are the lifeblood of competition. They provide stimulation on a regular basis for players and keep them active and traveling, which translates to them attending bigger tournaments. While it is uncertain how Bonchan’s efforts will impact these scenes in the long run, it’s clear there are many Japanese Street Fighter V players hungry for places to play.
The coming days
Bonchan has already accomplished so much in the early months of 2017, but his year isn’t over yet. He’s of course going to continue his Road Trip events to close the year out in an attempt to inspire as many newcomers as he can. While he hasn’t confirmed that he’ll be bringing this series back for 2018, the good he’s done this year is clear and the interest is there.
In addition to his community work, he’s planning on continuing to train himself for the Capcom Pro Tour events. “The season has only started and I’ve only attended two tournaments, but I am doing my best to qualify for Capcom Cup this year and that would be my goal for this year.” He is also slated to make a return to the Red Bull Kumite in Paris on May 27-28. He won the Kumite in 2015 and placed fourth in 2016, so many are expecting The Last Nash to make quite a splash this time around as well.
Bonchan is a man with people all over the world who look to him for inspiration, across multiple countries. He left me with some parting words for his fans: “I am really thankful for my supporters and partners. The reason why I can express myself really freely and the reason why I could start the Road Trip is because of the close alignment I have with Red Bull. If you would like to support me further, please drink Red Bull!”